E-cadherin is a Ca(2+)-dependent cell adhesion molecule which plays an important role in normal growth and development via mediation of homotypic, homophilic cell-cell interaction. Recent studies suggest that E-cadherin may be important in neoplastic progression as well, particularly as a suppressor of invasion. We have previously demonstrated that the invasive phenotype of rat prostate cancer cells is associated with the decreased expression of E-cadherin (M. J. G. Bussemakers, R. J. A. Van Moorselaar, L. A. Giroldi, T. Ichikawa, J. T. Isaacs, F. M. J. Debruyne, and J. A. Schalken, Cancer Res., 52:2916-2922, 1992). This is of particular interest, since the locus to which the human E-cadherin gene is mapped is frequently involved in allelic loss in prostate cancer (B. S. Carter, C. M. Ewing, W. S. Ward, B. F. Treiger, T. W. Aalders, J. A. Schalken, J. I. Epstein, and W. B. Isaacs, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 87:8751-8755, 1990; U. S. Bergerheim, K. Kunimi, V. P. Collins, and P. Ekman, Genes, Chromosomes Cancer, 3: 215-220, 1991). Impaired E-cadherin function is likely to be associated with aberrant expression of the protein. We therefore analyzed E-cadherin expression in situ by immunohistochemistry in nonmalignant and malignant specimens of human prostatic tissue. Of 92 tumor samples of either primary or metastatic deposits of prostate cancer, 46 had reduced or absent E-cadherin staining when compared to nomalignant prostate, which uniformly stained strongly positive. There was a statistically significant correlation between the decreased expression of E-cadherin and loss of tumor differentiation. Additionally, certain tumors within a histologically similar group could be distinguished by the presence of mixed populations of E-cadherin-negative and -positive cells. The percentage of tumors with aberrant E-cadherin staining increased when clinically localized tumors were compared to either tumors with extensive local progression or metastatic deposits of prostate cancer, suggesting a correlation between loss of E-cadherin and tumor progression. Taken together, these findings suggest that further exploration of E-cadherin as a candidate invasion suppressor molecule in human prostate cancer is warranted.